Helpful signs onthe road to literacy

27th September 1996 at 01:00
WELLINGTON SQUARE EXTRA! Reading age 7-8 Interest age 7-13 Sets 1-4 (six titles) Pounds 16.35 each Nelson.

IN FLIGHT LEVEL 1 Ages 7-9 Readers complete set (1x12 including 3 abridged titles) Pounds 26.90 LEVEL 2 Ages 8-l0 Readers Complete Set (lx8 titles) Pounds 20 Teacher's notes and copymasters Level 1 and 2 Pounds 13.50 each Workbook pack levels 1 and 2 Pounds 5.95 each Nelson

Margaret Mallet unwraps two new reading packs.

Teachers of slower readers will be pleased to find Wellington Square Extra! These 24 non-fiction books in magazine format are intended for older primary and younger secondary pupils who need an accessible text but mature content.

The principle behind their design is important: material for less forward readers need not look like a traditional special needs package. It is far better that they appeal to a wide range - which these do. Indeed, I learned a lot myself by skimming through them. They bring children who have experienced some difficulties on the road to literacy right into the reading community.

This is achieved in two ways: through varied themes - topics in Set 4 include Castles, Boats and Canals, Asia, The Duke of Wellington, Flight and The Olympics - and through the magazine format which will be familiar to most pupils.

The magazine design is reinforced by a contents list, headlines, subheadings and bibliography. Illustrations are varied, well-labelled and include photographs, tables, drawings and time lines.

The writing is lively and much less formal than conventional textbook writing - it is as accessible as much that is on offer at the newsagents. The peppering of the text with exclamation marks is only a tiny quibble.

Particular books could support lessons across the curriculum. Publishing and TV and Radio from Set 2 could resource English work - and the books could be examined from the point of view of how different texts work. Above all, they are good browsing material particularly, but not exclusively, for young learners who need a boost to their reading image.

In Flight is a new junior course for teaching reading skills to the full ability range and, like its competitors, provides structured support for reading across the curriculum. The books are divided into two sets - rather confusingly described as "levels" - with the text in level two slightly more challenging and complex than in level one. They contain short novels, short stories, non-fiction, poetry and plays and support materials. Themes underpinning the genres at both "levels" are Environment, Mystery, Adventure, Hobbies and Interests, and Fantasy.

The teacher's notes are full and clear, and include advice about the different approaches to reading - teacher reading aloud, guided and independent reading, possibly using theworkbooks and copy masters.

When I approach new reading resources I ask three main questions. First, are the materials of good quality? Second, do they provide a useful framework for teachers' own reading programmes while allowing them to select from different sources? Third, does the new package add something new to what is already available?

In answer to my first question, I particularly like the I am the Song poetry book which contains an exciting range of poems, all beautifully illustrated. Our Gang: Letters from Pakistan is partly written in letter form, and there are entertaining non-fiction books about thinking by Ted Wragg.

On the second question, since this new course offers a core of reading materials of different kinds and of varying complexity from the early junior stage onwards, it can be used alongside other books and resources.

It offers continuity and progression, but it needs to be supplemented and enriched by teachers so that they feel in control of it. As professionals, they already know a great deal about texts for children. Perhaps this should be made more explicit in the publicity materials.

Third, is there something distinctive here? I have not seen the notion ofdifferentiation realised in quite the way in any other materials. There are simplified versions of the same texts, for example, Footprints in the Snow in Readers Complete Set, level 2, is in both story form with chapters, and in a cartoon format for young readers moving along at a slower pace than their contemporaries.

This means that all the pupils can be enjoying the same story and participating in related writing, talking and drama tasks the teacher might be providing. This is likely to help make the children all feel part of a community of young readers.

Margaret Mallett is a lecturer at Goldsmiths' College, London

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